WHO IS OBJECTIFYING US?
“The women who are really being emulated and obsessed over in our culture now – strippers, porn stars, pinups – aren’t even people. They are merely sexual personae, erotic dollies from the land of make-believe. In their performances, which is the only capacity in which we see these women we so fetishize, they don’t even speak. As far as we know, they have no ideas, no feelings, no political beliefs, no relationships, no past, no future, no humanity”
Ariel Levy in Revolting Prostitutes (Juno Mac, Molly Smith. 2018)
There are different schools of feminism, but our favourite one is the old-school wave of “feminists” who are against sex work, because they accuse it of perpetuating the misogynist values of the patriarchal society. Their slogan seems to be: STOP OBJECTIFYING WOMEN. YOU ARE SELLING YOUR BODY. This is an open letter to you, radical feminist, even if probably you will never take the time to read it – because, you know, you love talking about us, but you never bother talking with us, nor listening to our point of view.
Dear Radical Feminist,
This letter is being typed at a computer using my fingers, my eyes and my modest mind. As you can see, my body is still here and still belongs to me, I haven’t sold it to anybody. The only thing I have sold is my time… Wait, aren’t we all doing that?
Since you are so obsessed with the issue of objectification, let’s talk clearly: women are objectified in their everyday lives, no matter what they do. Period. Women are objectified when they get catcalled in the street, when they get grabbed in the metro, when they get their drink spiked by some asshole who wants to have sex and doesn’t know what consent is. Abolishing sex work would not make this disappear. What motivated me to become a stripper was exactly that disrespect I have experienced in my everyday life. I thought, well, the only thing I can do about it, the only thing that gives me power over this, is to use the situation to my advantage. Do they want to grab my ass? First I have to consent, and then they have to pay me and I am going to get something from it. In contrast to what happens in my everyday life, it is me who decides the rules and it is my decision. Anyways, getting a compensation for years of unwanted sexualisation is just my personal motivation, and sex workers who choose to do it because it is like any other job should not be disregarded either. They provide a service that is needed in society, even if your morals will refuse to admit it. And, more than that, sex work is the option that gets many women out of poverty and that gives them the power to feed their families. Take a look at the statistics: there are way less homeless women than homeless men, and it is often thanks to sex work. You have no right to take away a source of labour from other women.
And are our customers really objectifying us? Not always. But you cannot know it, since you have never asked us about our customers, nor you know any of them. Oh… Actually one of them is your puritan husband. A line needs to be drawn between objectification and appreciation. When customers look at us, give us compliments, tell us that we are beautiful, it does not necessarily mean that they are objectifying us, because not all compliments imply objectification. Stop considering appreciation as wrong, stop thinking that being sexy and beautiful (in all the different ways that beauty can manifest) is a sin. Being appreciated is positive and everybody, in a way or another, is looking for validation. The difference between objectifying and appreciating lies in how the compliment is given and in which context.
There are customers who do objectify us, insulting us with vulgar questions about our sexual life, touching us without asking, making nasty comments. But hey – this sounds very familiar, it does not happen exclusively in the sex industry, does it? This is not related to the nature of our job, but it is related to a toxic masculinity that rules our society. Their behaviour towards us mirrors the behaviour they probably have with the non-sex worker girls they meet in bars, clubs and the street. Stop pointing at the sex worker and blame him instead. If you think that it is our fault if we get objectified, then you might also think that it is the girl’s fault if she goes around wearing a tight skirt and she gets grabbed. Most customers don’t act like that. In strip cubs, for example, most customers want to talk to us, have a drink with us in order to have time to ask us about our lives, about our opinions. To get to know us. Many of them even ask for our number because they want to meet us outside of work – which is problematic, because it is out of place and it does not respect professional boundaries, but this is another story that will not be discussed here, but it also shows that they do see the person behind our bodies.
Who is objectifying us is you, radical feminist. Yes, you. You are guilty of the same pattern you denounce. Because you don’t consider us as individuals, but you consider us as a category, as objects, as walking breasts and public vaginas. You stick a label on us, for you we are just that thing called Whore, and you don’t take into account that we have a personality, a political view, feelings, a private life, friends and partners. That we have something to say too… You never ask us what we have to say. For you we are mere bodies that pollute society, bodies to be exterminated or saved.
I am going to close this with another message from Revolting Prostitutes: “Sex workers – not journalists, politicians, or the police [and let me add, not old-school “feminists”] are the experts on sex work”. If you are a feminist, a real one, do not tell other women what to do with their bodies. Before you rant about objectification, think about it: who is objectifying us?